Why domestic violence victims don't leave | Leslie Morgan Steiner
How to Deal with Domestic Violence
Domestic violence is a term used to describe an intimate relationship in which one person uses abusive behavior to to assert his or her authority and dominance over the other person. Women are victims at a higher rate than men (5 to 1), and in the United States, 1 in 4 women has been physically abused at least once by a partner.Domestic violence often goes unreported to authorities, so these numbers are believed to be significantly lower than what really occurs. It is important to understand domestic violence and how to deal with it if it happens to you or someone you love.
Understanding Domestic Violence
Know what constitutes domestic violence.Domestic violence (DV) is defined by the United States Department of Justice as having many possible manifestations, all of which are patterns of violence that are used by one person to gain and keep power over someone else using actions or threats of actions that scare, force, coerce, hurt, or embarrass someone.You can learn about the specific types of domestic violence classified by the US government at www.justice.gov/ovw/domestic-violence, which include:
- Physical Abuse: This type of domestic abuse involves one person hurting or threatening to hurt someone else, and it can range from what might seem like obvious abusive behaviors like punching to more subtle behaviors like pulling, pushing, forcing someone to drink or do drugs, or refusing to allow someone access to medicine they might need. Any other behavior that hurts the body of someone else can also be physical abuse.
- Sexual Abuse: This type of domestic abuse involves one person forcing or attempting to force or coerce sexual behavior or touch from another person. This might involve unwanted touching of the genitals or breasts, unwanted sex of any type (anal, oral, or vaginal, within a marriage relationship or not), or sexually demeaning or humiliating someone.
- Emotional Abuse: This type of domestic abuse involves one person belittling another person by damaging their self-esteem or sense of worth. It can take many forms, but some of the most common involve talking in a belittling way about someone (alone or in public), constantly criticizing someone's efforts, calling someone names or cursing at someone, or purposefully trying to turn someone's family, friends, or children against them.
- Economic Abuse: This type of domestic abuse involves one person attempting to make another person financially dependent on themselves. It can involve refusing access to money or bank accounts, not sharing information about finances, or not allowing someone to attend work or school so that they cannot become self sufficient.
- Psychological Abuse: This type of domestic abuse involves trying to control someone by using means of fear, intimidation, or threats. Psychological abuse can involve isolating someone from family or friends, threatening self harm or harm to others, destroying property or pets (especially things the abused person loves), and "gaslighting," a process that involves gradually convincing the victim that she is crazy and deserves the abuse.
Understand why abusers abuse.Abuse is about power and control over a victim,often manifesting when an abuser feels a lack of power in other areas of his or her life or desires to take power away from their victim.While abuse happens in many ways and for many reasons, it always has a few features in common:
- It is never justified. Abusers always have an excuse or a reason for the things that they do, but no matter what they say, there is never a valid reason to abuse another person.
- It is never the victim's fault. Many abusers will say that the victim was "asking for it" or that the victim's behavior needed to be punished. These are just excuses for the abuser's behavior, and they are not true: no one deserves to be abused.
- It can happen to anyone. There is not a single demographic that abuses or that is victimized. Abusers can be any race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status, as can victims.
- Keep in mind that although victims of domestic violence are overwhelmingly female, men can also be victims of domestic violence.Because it is not as common, laws tend to be written as if victims were all female.
Know the law in your area.In America, federal laws protect victims of domestic violence. Most states have additional laws and statutes governing what counts as domestic violence and how it is to be prosecuted.
- Federally, two laws specifically address domestic violence: The Violence Against Women Act and the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act. The first provides for legal aid and funding for relocating for victims of domestic violence. The second provides formula grants to states to serve victims, but also established the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
- Visit to view an interactive map of the United States which provides an overview of state laws specifically relating to violence in dating relationships (including stalking, victim's rights, rape procedures, etc.).
Know what local resources are available.Depending on your city and state, there are different resources available to help a victim escape a violent partner, press charges, find temporary housing, or even relocate.
- You can start by visiting and clicking on your state.
- Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY for deaf callers). It is a 24 hour hotline that can help connect you to resources in your area and give you advice about a safety plan.
- In the United States, nearly every major city has shelters for victims of domestic violence.
Dealing with a Violent Partner
Determine if you are experiencing domestic violence.Domestic abuse can be emotional, mental, physical, or sexual abuse or a combination of any of these.
- Abusers can go long stretches between episodes of abuse, and be loving and attentive when they are not abusing. Because of this, some victims might feel unsure if they are truly experiencing DV. Regardless of how frequently someone might make you feel scared or in danger, if they do make you feel that way, you are in an abusive relationship.
- Not all abusive relationships start out that way, and sometimes it can take months or years before an abuser begins his or her violent behavior. Sometimes, controlling and manipulative behaviors develop so gradually that the victim might not be able to pinpoint when the relationship took a turn for the worse and became "violent."
- Abuse looks different in every violent relationship. Some abusers never lay their hands on their victim, but instead use psychological tactics to make their victim feel dependent and worthless.If you fear that you are being abused, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY for deaf callers) and talk to a counselor, who can help you understand if your situation is abusive.
Tell a trusted friend, family member, or professional.Even if you choose not to immediately leave the relationship, it is important to have someone else be aware that you are being abused in case of an emergency.
- You may wish to set up a safe word or code word to be used if you need them to contact help for you. For instance, you could agree that if you call and ask them about their "Uncle Michael," they should call 9-1-1 to your location.
Document all acts of abuse that you experience.Even if you do not report each incident to the police, keep detailed records for yourself to have in case you need them at a later time. Sometimes evidence of a pattern of abuse can help you to gain custody or to seek damages or incarceration for the abuser. Evidence of abuse can also help you get a restraining order.
- Keep a large manila envelope in which to store evidence of abuse. You can give this envelope to your trusted friend and ask him or her to keep it at another location, to prevent your partner from finding it. If you do not have someone to leave it with, be sure to put it somewhere that your partner will not find it.
- Write down the date and time of any incidents that occur, and whether they involve physical, sexual, emotional, financial, or other types of abuse. Write down specifically what happened, including what you did and what your partner did before, during, and after the episode and whether or not anyone else was involved (pets, children, other family members) or witnessed the episode. Think of it as a legal document, and try to write in as neutral a way as you can, avoiding emotional language.
- If you are physically abused, take pictures of any bruises, cuts, or marks that your partner makes on your, or any damage that he or she does to your property or home.
- If he or she sends intimidating or coercive text messages, emails, or written notes, save them and include them in your file.
Be aware of your environment at all times when you are with your partner.Be aware of their moods and tone of voice. This may help you recognize when they may have an abusive episode.
- If an argument breaks out, make sure you are in an area that has an escape route like an accessible door or window, and you are away from anything that may be used as a weapon. Stay away bathrooms with small windows and kitchens or other areas where dangerous household objects are stored.
Prepare a safety plan.A safety plan is a plan based on your circumstances and the type of abuse that is occurring. It deals with what you should do in the event of a violent attack, as well as a longterm plan for how you can get out of the violent situation for good.
- If you have children, pets, or are pregnant, your safety plan should include how you will keep them safe during a violent episode and what you will do to protect them if you leave.
- Visit or call 1-800-799-7233 for help making a safety plan. A counselor with the National Domestic Violence Hotline can help you take all of your personal situation factors into account as you make your plan.
Practice your safety plan and potential escape routes.Being prepared can help your reduce panic in an otherwise frightening situation. Know all of your options to remove yourself from the abusive episode without incurring more violence.
Collect important documents and store them in a safe place.These documents include social security cards, birth certificates, marriage licenses, and any other legal documents with your name appearing on them.
- If children are involved, include their personal information as well, such as birth certificates, social security cards, tribal identification cards, medical and vaccine records, school records, etc.. If you are unable to store the originals, you may wish to make copies of them and store those.
- When you have told a trusted friend that you are being abused, give them a copy of these documents to keep for you. If you have to leave your home abruptly, you can get the documents from them at a later time.
Prepare a suitcase.During an emergency or in the event that you have to immediately leave your home, the suitcase can contain vital documents and things from your home that you'll need. You can keep your documents in this suitcase.
- Some things to include: a few change of clothes, several days' supply of any essential medications, contact information for shelters and local resources, cash and credit cards, a copy of keys.
- Keep this bag outside of the home, preferably at the home of a trusted person. If you do not have a trusted friend to leave it with, keep it in a storage locker at a neutral location, or as a last resort, in the trunk of your car. Its important to keep it somewhere that your partner is unlikely to find it.
Purchase a cellular phone for emergencies only.Almost all cellular telephones will have emergency service access even without a phone plan.
- Keep this phone charged and ready in case you need to call the authorities and are unable to use the telephone in your home. If possible, keep the phone on a charger that is not readily visible to your partner and in a safe area.
Open your own bank account.Have an account where funds are immediately available to you. Hide all evidence of this account from your partner; leave important documents with your trusted friend.
- Be sure to ask the bank to send statements to your friend's house and not your own. Tell the bank representative that it is important to you that the person you live with does not know you have created the account.
- If you do not work outside of the home, this step may be difficult. In that case, you may be able to get financial assistance through government organizations once you leave your home permanently.
Helping a Friend
Research.Abuse takes many forms. Learn about the warning signs of abuse, types of abuse, creating a safety plan, and leaving an abusive relationship. You can help your friend by knowing what is going on, understanding the legal implications, and finding available resources.
- Start by visiting government websites like or which have up-to-date, valid information about domestic violence.
- Remember that your friend may not be thinking clearly, so it is important for you to help him or her understand his or her options throughout the process.
Ask.If you suspect that your friend is being abused, do not be afraid to ask him or her. Asking how he or she is doing or if a partner is hurting him or her is not a sign that you are a nosy friend, it is a sign that you care.
- Let them know that you understand that they are scared and feel vulnerable, but that you want to support them and help them through the situation.
- If your friend insists that she is not being abused, let her know that you are there for her regardless, and that if anything ever happens that she wants to talk about, you are always a willing ear.
Be supportive.Your friend's abuser is likely trying to make him or her feel alone and isolated, and your friend needs to know that there is someone who supports and understands them and is not going to judge them.
- Let your friend know that this is not his or her fault, and do not ask questions or make suggestive comments that imply you think your friend might be at fault or partially to blame (for instance, if your friend is experiencing sexual assault, do not ask her how often she consents to have sex with their husband).
- Respect your friend's decisions, even if he or she feels that he or she should stay in the relationship.
Help your friend make a plan.It is important that victims of domestic violence prepare for what to do during an abusive episode, and plan ahead for how they will leave the situation. Sometimes being in an abusive relationship makes it very hard to think clearly about possible outcomes of actions.
- Visit for a step by step guide to creating a safety plan from the National Domestic Violence Hotline, a federal program for prevention of domestic violence.
- Be sure that the plan includes how to stay safe during a violent episode, how to get help in an emergency, how to leave the relationship (if the friend is willing to leave), and what to do after leaving.
Advocating For an End to Domestic Violence
Support efforts to prevent domestic violence.Initiatives that support the development of healthy relationships, respect between partners, the importance of sexual consent, and dating skills can all help reduce rates of domestic violence.
- Call your congressperson or representative and ask them what they will do to support domestic violence prevention.
Teach your children.Ending domestic violence starts in the home, where we teach our children what relationships look like every day. Remember, when you teach your child how to be a part of a healthy relationship, you are teaching him or her both not to be a victim and not to be an abuser.
- Model a healthy relationship. It is impossible to teach children how to prevent domestic violence in their own future homes unless you can model that type of relationship for them. If you are in a violent relationship, it is important that you make a safety plan and leave, not only for your safety and your children's safety, but in order to model healthy relationships for your children.
- Teach your children about respect and consent. Teach your children that healthy relationships do not involve pressure, force, or coercion, and that if someone loves them, they will never try to make them do something they are not comfortable with. Respect their boundaries beginning at an early age. For example, if your young child does not want a hug from Grandma, do not force her, because you are teaching her that she does not have control over who she is affectionate with.
- Help your children develop a healthy level of self-esteem. Abusers often abuse because they want to feel powerful and in control, and so they belittle their victims and take away their victim's feelings of self-worth.You can help your children develop self-esteem by bonding when they are young, spending quality time together, praising their achievements and encouraging their talents, telling them frequently that they are loved and valued, and by being involved in their friendships to ensure that they are not making friends with the wrong types of influences.
- Teach your children about the importance of equality. A relationship that is unbalanced, where one partner has more power than the other partner, is more likely to become abusive. Instead, teach children that both partners (no matter the gender) should have equal power in a loving relationship, and that decisions should be made through team work and compromise rather than pressure or one person deciding for the other.
Do your part.There are many ways you can help put an end to domestic violence. Find a way that works for you and get involved today.
- Volunteer at your local women's shelter or crisis center, or call and ask if they are accepting donations of clothes, food, or household goods. Many survivors have to leave dangerous situations with just the clothes on their backs.
- Donate to an organization working to end domestic violence. Visit for a list of organizations.
- Become a mentor. Through organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters or your local church or YMCA, you can become a mentor to young people and help them develop relationship skills and self-esteem to prevent domestic violence in their futures.
- Support legislation that supports survivors and punishes offenders, and contact your congressperson and ask him or her to support anti-violence legislation and services.
QuestionI showed my husband this and he just hit me more afterwards. What should I do?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYou need to physically remove yourself from the home and get to safety. If necessary, call the police. If you can get out of the house, you may want to seek help from a friend or neighbor; they can keep you safe until the police arrive.Thanks!
QuestionMy husband has these anger spells and hurts me pretty bad. He wakes up the next day and is filled with remorse. He wants help, and says he's tired of being this way. Am I wrong for staying?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYes. You should make plans to leave safely as soon as possible. It may be that he has some sort of mental illness. It's also possible that he's simply pretending to be remorseful. Many abusers use this tactic to make sure their victims feel bad for them and stay with them. Whatever the reason behind his abuse is, it is not safe for you to stay in that situation. Hopefully he'll get the help he says he wants, but in the meantime you should not be there.Thanks!
QuestionWe had court today and my husband seemed very unremorseful. Why does he fail to acknowledge what he did?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerHe could be using anger as a defense mechanism. Or he genuinely is not remorseful. If someone is domestically violent, that person is troubled and not thinking right. You most likely will never understand why he did what he did. In the end, it doesn't matter. He did i,t and he is not worth your time. Be strong. Love yourself. Sometimes people use anger as a secondary emotion. He could be sad and using anger as a defense mechanism.Thanks!
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